Academic journal article Refuge

A Diaspora in Diaspora? Russian Returnees Confront the "Homeland"

Academic journal article Refuge

A Diaspora in Diaspora? Russian Returnees Confront the "Homeland"

Article excerpt

Abstract

The term "Russian diaspora" is used to refer to the twenty-five million ethnic Russians who in 1991 found themselves politically displaced beyond the borders of the Russian Federation and resident within newly independent states. This paper firstly reviews the problematic "classification" of these communities as a "diaspora." More specifically, by drawing on narratives of "home" and "homeland" among those Russians "forced" to return to the Russian Federation since 1991, it focuses on a central pillar of diasporic identity: the relationship to "homeland." By exploring the everyday interactions with and articulated narratives of Russia on "return," the paper argues that it is upon confrontation with "the homeland" that Russian returnees develop a sense of "otherness" from local Russian residents and a connection with other "returning Russians." The question is raised as to whether, rather than "coming home," Russians returning from the other former Soviet republics become a "diaspora in diaspora"?

Resume

On utilise l'expression << diaspora russe >> en reference aux 25 millions de Russes provenant d'ethnies differentes qui, a l'echelle politique en 1991, se sont trouves deplaces audela des frontieres de la Russie et sont devenus des residants d'Etats nouvellement independants. L'article s'attarde d'abord a la problematique liee a la << classification >> de ces groupes en tant que << diaspora >>. A partir d'anecdotes se rapportant aux notions de << foyer >> et de << patrie >> parmi ces Russesforces de revenir en Russie depuis 1991, l'article se penche plus particulirrement sur le pilier de l'identite de la diaspora : la relation a la << patrie >>. Grace a l'exploration des interactions quotidiennes avec la Russie et des faits racontes sur le << retour >>, l'article defend le point de vue suivant: c'est par la confrontation avec la << patrie >> que les rapatries russes se sensibilisent a la notion de l' << autre >> vis-a-vis des residants russes et qu'ils tissent des liens avec d'autres << rapatries russes >>. La question qui se pose alors est de savoir jusqu'a quel point les Russes qui reviennent d'autres Republiques sovietiques ne deviennent-ils pas une << diaspora dans la diaspora >> plutot que de simplement retourner chez eux.

Introduction

The term "Russian diaspora" refers to the twenty-five million ethnic Russians who became politically, although not physically, displaced in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. (1) On 1 January 1992, these Russians suddenly found themselves resident in the new geopolitical space referred to as Russia's "near abroad." The question of the applicability of the term "diaspora" to the case of Russian minorities in the former Soviet republics has received considerable attention in western academic literature since the mid 1990s, (2) facilitated by a wider return to the question of "diaspora" in the light of increasing concern with transnational movement and, especially from postmodernist perspectives, its implications for identity.

This paper reviews briefly the problematic "classification" of the Russian-speaking communities in the former Soviet republics as a "diaspora." More specifically, however, it pursues a central pillar of diasporic identity: the question of the relationship to "homeland." For Russian-speaking communities in the former republics "the homeland" has not been a "faraway land" generating communal myths of, and longing for, return. It has been a tangible presence--an open door--through which individuals and families choose, and re-choose, whether or not to walk. Indeed the peculiarly immanent nature of "the homeland" in the case of the Russian diaspora provides an excellent opportunity to explore, empirically, the centrality, or otherwise, of "homeland" in diasporic identity. …

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